4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
An excellent account of the age of Diocletian,
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This review is from: Diocletian and the Roman Recovery (Roman Imperial Biographies) (Paperback)
Diocletian is largely a stranger to English Language academia, many of the principal studies of his reign, the tetrarchy and his economic policies have largely been in French and German works. This makes Stephen Williams work, highly welcome. William's displays a solid control of the source material, overcoming the bias of the primary sources (Lactantius and Eusebius are both hostile) as well as good knowledge of archaeological evidence, inscriptions and numismatics.
The book is more than a narrow biography and is as much about Diocletian the man as it is about his time period. Although it is a brief work, the content is placed in five superbly structured parts. These blend an insightful narrative history with some genuinely excellent thematic chapters, in particular Williams' discussion of military policy (loosely derived from Luttwak but well supported by good use of archaeological study), economic policy and also religious policy are well thought out with sound arguments. These chapters in particular would be very useful to anyone writing an essay on the Later Roman Empire (the appendicles are also very useful for academics).
Many arguments presented in the book provide real food for thought, Williams drives his reader towards some interesting conclusions, as well as reappraising the nature of the tetrarchy as a more collegiate system than arbitrarily territorial. Likewise he places Diocletian's rule in a more Roman mould, rather than seeing his rule as a product of Oriental Despotism he sees how it fits into the Roman respect for the law. Identifying, perhaps that the principal difference between Augustus' rule at the start of the Empire differed from Diocletian's rule more in the fact that whilst Augustus subtly held monarchical power Diocletian made this power explicit. Equally Williams makes a persuasive argument for acknowledging Constantine's debt to Diocletian, in the same way that much modern scholarship seeks to acknowledge Alexander the Great's debt to Philip II.
The tone of the work is considered, Williams is unlike some historians seeking to provide a rose tinted view of their subjects. He recognised Diocletian as a forceful character who stabilised the empire, but who was unable to make his reforms outlast himself and who made at least two significant mistakes (His edict on maximum prices and his persecution of the Christians). Williams comparison of Diocletian with Oliver Cromwell is very apt. For its size (230 pages) it is a very accomplished work.